Honda Element Alabama Hills

Honda Element Love, aka #toasterlife

About six years ago I was two winters deep into living in snow country (remember when Truckee/Tahoe was snow country) in a 1991 2wd Toyota Camry – not ideal. I knew I needed something all wheel drive, and the vehicle du jour of Tahoe is the Subaru Outback.

But I had always had a soft-spot for the box-on-wheels that is the Honda Element. I found a used 2005 in a green I like to think evokes the fragrant sage of the high desert eastern Sierra, and it became my ultra-light minimalist motorhome. I loved it from the start.

Getting the coffee and tea ready in the morning, Bishop, Ca. Photo by Lynn Baumgartner.

Getting the coffee and tea ready in the morning, Bishop, Ca. Photo by Lynn Baumgartner.

I’ve driven it up to Portland Oregon and down to San Diego, all over the Sierra and California Coast. I’ve packed it with camping gear, climbing gear, bikes, skis and buddies – sometimes all at once. I’ve slept in it, read books while waiting out storms in it, and worked on my laptop in it.

On one trip in particular, I slept comfortably inside near with my mountain bike, backcountry skis, bouldering crash pad, and all the camping and associated gear inside along with me.


Camping gear, skiing gear, bike, bouldering & climbing gear all Tetris into the Flying Green Toaster

A kitted out Mercedes Sprinter camper van has lately entered into my dreams, but the Element is a great substitute here in reality – and its easier to park. Just a little less expensive too.

Avenue of the Giants, Redwoods, Honda Element

Lynn at the wheel in the Avenue of Giants.

On the road to Bend, Or. Photo by Lynn Baumgartner

I’ve picked up a few ideas from the Honda Element Owner’s Forum over the years and the threads there have a ton of creative ideas for gear, camping, etc, but here are a few of my favorite add-ons:

  • Looprope or similar looped bungee cord across the cargo area – perfect for hanging gear and clothing.
  • Cargo Bin – the plastic floor on the Element is fantastic, but a bin is nice for keeping small stuff for rolling away.
  • Kuat NV – Hitch-mounted bike rack is super easy to use, no taking wheels off, and comes with a built-in repair stand.
  • Nemo Helio Shower – Lynn gives me a hard time for how much I love this, but from cleaning bikes to doing camp dishes, it’s the best.
  • Water Container – A lot of campsites have potable water, but its nice to have your own. 5 gallons has been plenty for a weekend with a group or longer for one or two people.
  • A Good Cooler – We’ve been using the Igloo Iceless Cooler that plugs into a 12V in the back of the Element – and have had mixed success. It works when you’re driving and its powered, but we spend a lot of time biking, climbing, hiking, etc, and the times we’re driving doesn’t always make up for that, even with blue ice packs in the bottom.

Tailgate lunch, bouldering in the Buttermilks, Bishop, Ca.


More Fun, Less Forum Fighting

I’ve been in and around the outdoor industry for years – bike shops, ski shops, outdoor gear shops etc. I have been a gear geek and outdoor sports enthusiast for longer. The internet has been a great tool for sharing information.

And it’s also been a great way to get countless users to lose sight of the whole point of mountain biking, skiing, or whatever sport they’re trying to enjoy in the first place, instead spending countless hours going down the rabbit hole.

Internet forums are a great place to ask advice – what type of tires are right for the region I live? What skis for my terrain and ability level? There is so much choice (too much choice? See the million wheel size and hub standards in mountain biking now) in outdoor gear, it’s nice to get a little advice along the way.

But experts of the internet, kings of the digital domain, before you lay down the law with a snarky retort to the 3,001st person asking which ski is best or which bike is better, please remember one thing: The point of these activities in simple. FUN. Sure, fitness, competitiveness, mastery of skill are nice, but the underlying purpose is to have fun.

That means there isn’t a right or wrong ski, bike, shoe or backpack. I see this over and over again on internet forums: if you use a 98 mm waisted ski, not a 88 mm ski, you’re doing it wrong. If you are on a 120 mm travel mountain bike, not a 160, you’re doing it wrong. This is moronic, plain and simple.

If you have fun pedaling smooth XC trails on a slacked out enduro sled and you’re having fun, good. If you’re arcing turns down the groomer on 120 mm fully rockered powder skis and having a blast, you’re doing it right. Don’t let anybody tell you differently.

Sure, there may be a better tool for the job, but getting bogged down in number crunching is the opposite of what these sports are about, and looking at your skis, reading they’re 10mm too wide for the day and deciding not to ride is just sad. Go outside, have fun.

Another trend I see on the forums that drives me nuts are what I consider fashion questions. 29ers don’t look cool. What color helmet should I wear? Wearing a full face helmet on a cross country trail makes you look like a tool. STOP! If you want to play fashion show, pick another sport. I hear if you pick a team sport, they’ll pick a cute little color coordinated number for you. These are individual sports. Be an individual.

I’d probably get more clicks if I wrote a top 10 list of fashion flops in sport climbing, taking the 1,327th cheep shot at the shirtless bro with a beanie, but I honestly don’t care what other people wear while climbing, and neither should you. It affects our climbing zero percent. What skis you are on affects me zero percent.

The only place one person might voice objection to another person’s gear selection is if it’s doing harm – violating Leave No Trace, damaging a climbing crag, putting downhill skiers in the backcountry in harm’s way.

So that’s my rant. Do your homework, but don’t get bogged down in minutiae. Offer advice, but don’t mistake your opinion for gospel. Go outside, and have fun.


Mountain Biking Tahoe’s Flume Trail

In the nine years I’ve lived in the Truckee/Tahoe area, one classic I hadn’t ever gotten around to was the Tahoe Flume Trail, a popular bike ride on an old flume route above Tahoe’s east shore. The point of this ride is the views, rather than super-fun or super-fast riding, and we took full advantage, stopping at lookout after lookout.


The route is about 14 miles, starting with a four mile climb (the last half-mile of which is a bit of a butt-kicker), then turns into a fairly flat (with some good exposure) single track, ending in a fire road descent down Tunnel Creek.

Screen Shot 2015-05-10 at 6.15.50 PM

Continue reading


Portfolio Pieces: Marketing Video

While working at Start Haus, I found video to be one of the most powerful marketing tools in our arsenal, and was lucky enough to spend time producing, shooting and editing videos for their Youtube channel here.

A few of my favorites:

Make Skiing Better – an overview of the ethos of Start Haus.

This was a compilation of some of the better ski action we accumulated while filming ski review videos, using the audio from a 101.5 KTKE Radio Station ad I wrote.


Mt. Bachelor Boot Testing – a look inside the boot testing process

Each year a variety of ski boot fitters gather at Mt. Bachelor Ski Resort near Bend, Oregon to test the next year’s boots, both to decide what they want to carry in their stores, and also to provide the content for Ski and Skiing Magazines’ annual buyers guides.


Inside the Boot Fitting Lab – the nitty-gritty of customizing ski boots

This was a two camera shoot of the intricacies of boot fitting.